The Sherrod and Bernard law firm will no longer be the Douglas County Board of Education’s (BOE) legal counsel after Dec. 31, after a BOE vote at Monday night’s regular BOE meeting.
The BOE unanimously approved a “mutual release” of the BOE attorney contract after a lengthy executive session that stretched nearly 40 minutes into the opening of the meeting.
The action came on a motion by board member Sam Haskell and a second by Larry Barnes. The board did not discuss the agreement before the vote.
“What this entails is that Sherrod and Bernard will be legal counsel through this month,” BOE Chairman Jimmy Bartlett said after the vote. “As of Jan. 1, Sherrod and Bernard will no longer represent the board.”
His announcement was greeted with loud applause from a standing-room-only audience that packed the board meeting room.
The BOE did not reveal at the meeting how the new legal counsel will be chosen. The meeting was still continuing, at press deadline, with public comments from 22 people who signed up last week to qualify to speak.
Public controversy over the law firm’s contract arose after a recent Fox 5 Atlanta I-Team telecast which questioned the $295,275 annual pact with the firm to provide legal services for the school system. The TV report said the contract is at least twice that of other comparable size metro Atlanta school districts.
At the board members comments at the end of the regular BOE business and before the public comments, Bartlett read a lengthy statement which he said “recaps a few of the things that have taken place in the past calendar year.”
Though not speaking specifically to the attorney fee issue, Bartlett noted that the board has “found common ground” in its past votes “99 percent of the time.”
“On the few occasions that have not resulted in a unanimous vote, I have had no reason to presume that anyone voted for anything other than what he determined to be best,” Bartlett said. “I trust that most people would conclude the same when the vote on a complex issue is reported in a communique, the newspaper or even a rare television controversy.”
Most of the people who had signed up to speak still delivered their comments even though the board’s earlier voted had addressed their main concern.
Free Polazzo asked if the board could begin telecasting the meetings so that people who have to work could watch them at home or later through webcasts on the Internet.
Others called for a “postmortem” to discover why the board had made the decisions it has made and how to prevent similar situations in the future.
In other BOE action, the board unanimously approved:
• an extension of an agreement with Georgia Highlands College through June 2010;
• an additional 1.54 acre land purchase at the new elementary school site on Mt. Vernon Road to allow an additional access road;
• and guaranteed maximum price for Eastside Elementary renovation at $4,823,570.57 and Lithia Springs Elementary at $3,989,561.76.